I had a friend in college — I’ll call him Victor — who lived through very dangerous experiences as he fled his war-torn country of origin. When his bus was stopped by soldiers at an army checkpoint, Victor’s heart sank. He had been involved in subversive activities with his country’s guerrillas, and his name was on the long list of those wanted by the army and the police.
With guerrilla fighters, the law of the land was brutal — and final. If caught, Victor would be interrogated and tortured. After a number of horrible days, when it appeared he was no longer useful, he would be executed and “disappear.” He knew some who had already suffered such a fate.
The soldiers ordered all the passengers out of the bus so they could check their ID and search the vehicle. Victor knew that, if identified, he was doomed. So he decided to hide by lying on the floor in the last row of seats. His heart was pounding so hard that he thought someone might discover him by hearing it!
A soldier came up the steps into the bus and began to walk the length of the bus looking in every row. With each stride, the tension in Victor’s mind intensified.
But then, suddenly, Victor’s mind went clear. He began to see his entire life played out for him in perfect detail. He saw a few good things that he had done, but he saw very clearly all the bad things he had done. He could perceive the grimaces on the faces of those he had hurt. He was ashamed, and devastated. He wished desperately that he could take it all back, that he could apologize.
The soldier was about five rows away. Victor pleaded with God. Then, just two rows away, the soldier stopped, turned around, and walked back off the bus!
Victor was drenched with sweat. He felt like passing out. He was afraid to breathe too loud. He kept praying. The bus door made some noises. He heard “normal voices.” The passengers were coming back to their seats. The engine roared back to life. The bus began to move.
Victor didn’t know where to start to pick up the pieces of his life. He felt he had undergone a performance review in the presence of God Himself!
Of course, many have experienced such “life reviews” in near-death situations. They’re a phenomenon reported widely across countries, cultures, and peoples of the world. In the United States, more than eight million cases have been reported and studied. The individuals seem to see their life “flash before their eyes.” Many report seeing great detail, with events appearing in chronological sequence.
Victor described his experience as seeing himself in a “movie.” Many people who experience these episodes report that they were shocked by the detail and clarity, because many of the events were long forgotten.
(Even blind people experiencing a near-death life review “see themselves” going through their own past experiences. Even people born blind report “seeing” their lives pass before their eyes!)
Descriptions of the “life review” are so uniform that it’s hard to deny the reality of it. “A reformatory purpose seems commonly implicit in the accounts,” says one study. In other words, you come away from the near-death experience wanting to do better, to be better, than you were before.
And while some folks report seeing pleasant episodes; most report embarrassment, revulsion and guilt — enough to overwhelm any of the good feelings. “Experiencers describe them as extremely unpleasant from the perspective of the unhappiness they had inflicted on others,” the study says.
And what happens next? Usually, a strong transformative experience.
People affected by the episodes report a sharp drop in their materialistic ambitions. They also report a growth in altruism and compassion towards others. A common denominator among those who undergo the life-review is that they strongly turn away from unethical or immoral choices because they become aware of a “record-keeping” — which would confront them later for their actions.
Victor experienced it too. He gave up his former life — he came to Christ — he enrolled in Bible College at Multnomah; that’s where I met him. For the last three decades, Victor has been leading an incredible church-planting movement!
No matter the background of the individual, the study shows, when someone’s life “flashes before their eyes,” there is a decidedly moral reformative impact on all accounts.
Let us rejoice together in the service of our God and Savior!